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5 top tips for hiking the lost city of Petra

PETRA. For many, this word alone means so much; and their sole purpose to visit Jordan. It wasn't the only reason for me, but till today remains a highlight of the entire trip. They say much is yet to be uncovered and many mysteries are still hidden. However, there is already so much to explore beyond the crevices of the Siq of this once elaborate Nabatean Kingdom.

The Royal Tombs

Jordan as a country offers much to see, with such rich history it isn't a place that can be rushed - even if visiting just Petra. If you haven't read it already, in my previous blog I covered some of the best places of the Hashemite Kingdom to see.

In this blog I hope to cover 5 of the top things you need to know before you plan your hike and trip to Petra. I add some personal insights from my visit in the hope that this might help you plan yours.

1. Plan your stay

When visiting Petra it's best to get here the evening before your hike, (unless you're a day traveller from Israel). This allows you to speak with your hotel to arrange a packed breakfast/lunch for you to take the next day and arrange your entrance ticket or a guide if you want one. The town also have shops if you want to grab snacks to take. Most importantly get a bit of rest, as you have a lot of walking to do!

It would be advisable to pick your hotel/camp in Wadi Musa so you are close to give you the most time in Petra. We stayed in La Maison hotel, a few minutes walk from the visitor centre which is where you enter Petra. The hotel was great as were the staff, and the food was fabulous too, we couldn't fault it and I would return any given time. We also stayed at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp, which you may need to be closer to the backdoor hiking route (which I cover later) or Little Petra if you are visiting here.

The camp was a great experience, basic in provisions but clean, with great complimentary tea in the evenings at the camp fire. Again, one I would return to without hesitation. For more information on Little Petra catch my blog on a guide to Jordan.

2. Plan your hike

You should decide ahead of arriving how long you wish to spend in Petra. Take a look at the hike trails, their levels of difficulty and plan how long you need to do each (image below). This will help you decide how many days you will need here, and in turn which pass to buy.

There are several options available, and if you are travelling across Jordan too it may be worth considering the Jordan Pass.

  • Jordan Pass: It should be noted you need to register for the pass before you arrive into Jordan. The pass includes your visa (50 JOD), entry into Petra (see costs below) and single entrance to over 30 of the sites including Jerash, Amman Citadel, Ajloun Castle and Wadi Rum to name a few. If you are doing any of these you will already be saving money. The pass is available in 3 tiers if you like, the only difference between them is how many consecutive days you can have in Petra.

    • Jordan Pass Wanderer: 70 JOD - 1 day in Petra

    • Jordan Pass Explorer: 75 JOD - 2 consecutive days in Petra

    • Jordan Pass Expert: 80 JOD - 3 consecutive days in Petra

If you think the pass is not for you, you can also buy tickets on the day - do remember to allow for queuing times at the visitor centre when buying these, queues can be long.

  • Petra entrance costs: 1 day 50 JOD, 2 days 55 JOD, 3 days 60 JOD - these would need to be consecutive days. If you are a day traveller crossing the Israeli border then the cost is 90 JOD.

  • Petra by night: This is a separate cost and is not included in any normal Petra entrance ticket. The night feature runs 3 days a week and is an additional cost of 17 JOD to any ticket you have purchased, including the Jordan Pass.

Prices can change, but this should provide an indication.

3. Start your hikes early and pace them

This seems logical as there is so much ground to cover, and many do this anyway in the hope that there are less people at the Treasury (Al Khazna). But remember, you are not the only one thinking this and there will be others who aim to start at 6am as the gates open (it may still be dark at this time). Realistically, it will be difficult to get this place empty if that's what you are hoping for, especially in peak season. We found it was better toward the end of the day as most people were gone, or after the morning rush when they have moved onto another trail or have simply left after seeing the Treasury. The season in which you visit will also affect visitor numbers.

The Siq
The Siq

My main reason to say start early is so you can cover more ground. Once you have made it to the Treasury you are able to pick the different hike routes. Remember, if you are planning more than one day here, each day that you are hiking, you need to account for the walk from the visitor centre and the Siq before the route you wish to cover even starts.

From the map above you will see there are several trails you can follow, the difficulty levels is provided alongside as is estimate walking time. Assess what you can do and how long this will take you, use the timing as a guide. In my case I was recovering after being discharged from hospital only days before so I was lucky to even be allowed to travel and knew my limitations before we set out. For us this affected how long the hikes would take and which we would opt to do.

We started with the 'main trail', highlighted in red on the map, which ends at the Basin, this is a round trip of 8km/5m. We added a slight detour to climb up and see the Royal Tombs; along the Al-Khubtha trail before coming back toward the Basin. If you continue the Al-Khubtha trail you will see the Treasury from a view point.

When you start out at the visitor centre have your camera/phone ready, as you will see the first tombs before you even reach the the Siq. Once you have entered it there is around a 2km walk before you reach the Treasury, but the Siq itself offers a lot to photograph along the way. We had a guide, something that we found useful. The explanation of history, origins and even the betyl carvings that you see as you walk through the Siq added that bit more to the experience. This is optional and may not be to everyone's preference.

The trail to the Treasury is pretty flat with uneven terrain, this remains if you follow to the basin. The terrain is uneven, cobbled or rocky as you walk around Petra overall. Some places are very steep, slippery and in places steps no longer formed so care needs to be taken climbing up/down.

After we made it to the Basin, my sister and brother-in-law, with who I travelled decided to cover the Monastery (Ad-Deir) with the route from here. As we had a lot of time left it was ideal to cover off the same day. This does add 2.5km to the hike, be mindful on whether you are able to do this and if you have enough time. You are still looking at some 950 steps up, then back down so pace this, and time it so the sun is not beating on your head. Many use donkeys to complete this, which is not recommended as this is a difficult path and if they fall so will you and you put other hikers at risk too. The climb is steep and slippery in many places on the route.

If you need to split the Monastery visit you do have the option to use what is called the backdoor route, the local taxi's/your drivers will know where to drop you to start this hike. The time to climb to reach the Monastery is approximately the same but does not require you to enter through the visitor centre. This means you do not have to hike the some 4km before tackling the Monastery. However, if you want to, you can hike to this starting point from Little Petra, its an 8km walk one way.

4. What to pack and wear

Travel light! This is so important, you don't want to carry anything unnecessary here. A backpack will be much easier to carry for the day than any other type of bag. So, aside from your phone grab the camera. If it's not a point and shoot, take only the best 1-2 lenses you might need - not the whole hoard, you don't need them all.

Water is a must as it gets hot and you need to stay hydrated, you will be walking loads so bring a starting supply at least. I'd recommend packed lunch/snacks too if you can get these. If you can't get food beforehand or simply don't want to carry it, this is available inside Petra. Many of the Bedouins sell refreshments, so you won't have a problem finding a place to get a bit of needed fizz and 5 mins of down time.

It is also advisable to carry cash with small change in case you wish to buy anything, aside from food and drink there are souvenir stalls dotted throughout.

A headscarf we found was a must, wear this before you set out so avoid the heat as you hit the afternoon. We were hiking in some 40° and admittedly this was keeping the heat off. They cost a lot more in the shops around the Visitor Centre and even at the shops near the hotel, so bring one with you or buy them before you get here. A hat would also be fine if you prefer.

Sunglasses, sunscreen, tissues, hand gel - the other basics really to get you through the day. Regular hiking clothes are best, you need to keep as cool and as comfortable as possible for the long day. I'm sure Instagram will still love you.

Lastly, make sure you have good comfortable walking trainers, closed tops - this is no place for flip flops or similar regardless of how hot it might get. Mine changed colour to a shade of orangey-red over the black that they once were, so don't pick a pair you're too precious about.

5. Don't use the animals as transport

As you walk around you'll find that there are locals that will try to offer animal services for transport. They use these to help you reach places that might be along a more difficult path, or just for ease in getting around. But there have been been mixed reports of cruelty, beatings and donkey's falling and taking the passenger with them. I myself witnessed donkey's struggling but being forced near the Royal Tombs. I'd strongly encourage avoiding support of this type of tourism.

The reason you are likely looking to visit Petra is so walk around it. So do what you can, take your time walking around, enjoy the surroundings, taking in the views, the atmosphere and appreciate what you are still able to see from what was built centuries ago. Remember, it's not a race and not everyone will see everything - I didn't, I had to forego things I had my heart set on.

If you are looking to travel further afield, don't forget to check out my blog covering Jordan and what we crammed into the 2 weeks. You'll can also find my travel shots from this trip.

Other general info:

  • Currency: Jordanian Dinar (JOD)

  • Local Languages: Arabic, but most speak and understand English.

  • Religion: Muslim with a Christian minority.

  • Travel visa: Costs 50 JOD and is valid for 30 days upon arrival. For British citizens you can apply online in advance or these can be arranged on arrival, having them already provides a quicker immigration process. There is also the option of the Jordan Pass which is worth considering. If you are in Jordan less than 3 nights the fee is waived.

  • Money: Always carry a bit of cash as many of the smaller shops or tents within Petra or street vendors do not all take card.

  • Border crossings: The cost to go between Israel and Jordan varies in cost with their entry and exit fees, depending on which border crossing you use. Check this before you travel, I have found this site particularly useful to understand these. It also provides opening times and links to the official websites for any unplanned changes like Covid, forms, visa's that you might want to arrange ahead of time. For day trip visitors coming from Israel, there are plenty of tours that can manage the process for you.

  • Headscarf: In the markets will cost you around 1-2 JOD at most, cheapest are in Amman. As you get closer to Petra and Wadi Musa where you will really need these while hiking, they will quadruple in price and your haggling skills will not help.

  • It seems an obvious one, but always carry water, it gets very hot especially in the summer months. We went in August and its one of the hottest months there. Best time to travel if you want it cooler is Spring or Autumn.

  • Toilets: I am pleased to report these are dotted round and we had no trouble finding one when in need.

  • If you are not travelling with a tour group and are doing this yourself, I find the best way to manage the accommodation. All above listed places are on here, and it provides an easy to follow timeline with the app and you don't need papers at check-in.

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